Whitney back just in time
Once the NHL training camps fire up Sunday and the New Jersey Devils call some of their players home to Newark, the leading scorer for the Albany Devils will likely be Joe Whitney, who has missed the last three games with a lower-body injury and has sat nine all season.
“I feel good,” Whitney said. “It took a little bit longer than I thought it was going to take, so it feels good to be back and to be able to skate and have fun out there with my teammates.”
Whitney has five goals and nine assists in 22 games. Tim Sestito has the same numbers, but over 31 games, and his line with Darcy Zajac and Mike Hoeffel should continue to set an example with their strong play down low.
No one is sure who will be recalled to New Jersey, but the easy guesses as to who six of them may be include: right wing Bobby Butler, who leads the team in goals (15), points (22), power-play goals (five) and power-play points (seven), game-winning goals (three) and points per game (.73); centerman Jacob Josefson, who is second on the team in goals (eight), assists (12), points (20) and points per game (.67), leads in plus-minus (plus-10), shorthanded goals, assists and points (2-1-3); centerman Adam Henrique, who was a Calder Trophy finalist last year and will be returning in about three weeks from a thumb injury that sidelined him after 16 games; centerman Stephen Gionta, whose return to the Capital District 11 games ago helped energize the Devils; left wing Mattias Tedenby, who is third on the team in goals (seven) and is tied for third in points (14); and defenseman Adam Larsson, who leads in assists (14), power-play assists (five) and leads defensemen in points per game (.55).
The loss of so many scorers will magnify Whitney’s role. He was the team’s leading scorer last season with 44 points (15 goals, 29 assists).
“My role is to make plays and score goals, and I have to continue to do that,” he said. “We’ll lose some of our top offensive guys, so I might need to pick up some of the slack, along with a lot of other guys who have to pick up some of the slack, too. It’s a team effort in here and everybody contributes. If those guys leave, we’ll all be ready to step up.
“As long as we commit to it, as a team, to playing within the system and doing the right things, it shouldn’t be any different.”
Albany will play Friday night at Manchester at 7, Saturday at 5 p.m. at home against Worcester and Sunday at 4 p.m. against Bridgeport in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. The recalls will come somewhere in the midst of all that travel and play, leaving no real time for any kind of transition period for new lines.
“It’ll be, potentially this weekend, four or five, six or seven out, and maybe seven in,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. “Obviously, you think about it. You try not to put scenarios in your head, but as a coach, you try to be ahead of the game. We’ve thrown around some hypothetical line combinations. We’ll just keep going. It’s status quo with everybody here, and potentially Saturday, and obviously Sunday maybe a change. So with three-in-three and travel, there’s no room to work on anything or change anything.”
The Devils, though, kept more players in Albany than they usually would and now have 32 guys in the dressing room, all of whom except Jean-Sebastien Berube have played this season. Berube has been skating with the team after rehabbing his shoulder that was injured in the preseason. Once he gets game-ready, he’ll be an option.
“I think you’re going to see the advantage of keeping this many guys,” Kowalsky said. “Even J.S. Berube just got here and he’s already like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to catch up on systems.’ Guys that have been here and have been in and out of the lineup or haven’t played much, have been watching video, and we’ve gone out of our way — even though it went longer than we thought — to keep everybody on the same page. Hopefully, that will pay off where we don’t have to bring a bunch of guys up from the East Coast Hockey League and acclimate them to what we’re trying to do.”
Sestito is on a three-game goal streak (3-1-4), Eric Gelinas is on a four-game point streak (1-3-4), Hoeffel is on a three-game point streak (0-3-3) and Chris McKelvie has points in consecutive games (0-4-4).
Butler just had a five-game point streak (5-2-7) snapped in Sunday's game. Tedenby has goals in consecutive games (2-1-3) and Gionta has points in consecutive games (1-1-2).
Even though the two goals goalie Keith Kinkaid allowed on Sunday weren’t the best, he made some tough stops on breakaways and kept the Devils in it throughout. They broke away in the third period to a 5-2 win, Kinkaid’s fourth straight.
He has started the last three games and, in his last 11 starts (beginning Dec. 1), is 9-2-0. In that time, he has a goals-against average of 2.10 and a save percentage of .929.
I’m sure Kinkaid is grateful for the increased goal support his teammates have been providing since Dec. 1. In his nine games before then, Albany scored 1.78 goals per game (including two games in which the Devils were shut out). Since then, Albany has scored 3.45 goals per game.
In Thursday morning's practice, the Devils sent their whole roster through a shootout drill, and 11 players scored in the first round to advance. They were Jay Leach, Larsson, Brandon Burlon, Butler, Steve Zalewski, Hoeffel, Phil DeSimone, Dan Kelly, Berube, Raman Hrabarenka and McKelvie.
These 11 went on to the second round, where only Larsson, Berube and Hrabarenka scored. In the third round, Larsson and Berube missed, setting up Hrabarenka for the possible win. He chose to go against goalie Jeff Frazee and rang the puck off the left post, leaving it as a three-way draw.
Scott Parse (lower body) remains out indefinitely. Otherwise, Albany is pretty healthy, though Kowalsky was nursing an injured wrist as he came off the ice Thursday morning. He will still suit up to coach this weekend.
Josefson was rested during Thursday's practice for precautionary reasons.